Lost in Auster – Paul Auster’s Surreal, Unnerving Fiction

I’m going to start out here by saying that I don’t actually know anything about Paul Auster, so my post here about his brief, wonderful novella Travels in the Scriptorium is going to be pretty much free from any introductory information.

Yeah… sorry about that.

Travels in the Scriptorium
Paul Auster
Henry Holt & Co
January 23, 2007
145 Pages

Before I get this train a-rollin’ I’m going to let you know that this post is going to contain SPOILERS for the book in question.  It has to.  If it didn’t, my entire post would be this paragraph:

Paul Auster’s 2007 novel is a weird book.  Strange, mysterious in an almost Twilight Zone-like fashion, the novella deals with an unknown man (nicknamed Mr Blank for the purposes of the novel) who spends the entire novel sitting in a room with only a bed and a desk.  The desk has a strange story sitting upon it, accompanied by several photographs that Mr Blank reads through at various points of the novel.

Well actually… that’s pretty good.

Essentially, that paragraph tells you what you need to know about the book.  Mr Blank is an older man, semi-incontinent and semi-immobile.  His every move is recorded on video, his every noise caught on a high-definition audio tape.  He suffers in the room, confused and uncertain of who he is, why he is there and we observe him through the novel.

People come and go.  Their names aren’t terribly important

The most interesting part of the novel is the narration.  There is very little dialogue, even internal monologues, and what little there is has no separation by quotation marks.  The narrator is very prevalent and occasionally apologizes to the reader for making assumptions (mostly because of presuming to know what Mr Blank is thinking).  Beyond these narrational asides, the unknown narrator is most interesting because he seems to be observing both Mr Blank via the recording systems, but also through the pages of the novella itself.

I’d recommend reading this all in one sitting.  Like any great novella, every word is important and powering through the thing all at once gives you the opportunity to really let it hit you.  The language is great.

One criticism I’ve read is that the book is so reliant on Auster’s previous works that it makes enjoyment of this particular novel difficult… if not impossible, but… I didn’t find that to be the case.

The story is weird, the characters are half-formed (by design, as you’ll see by the end), and Auster’s prose explodes off the page, at various times funny, disturbing, and intriguing.  A great, quick read for those looking to dig a bit for their enjoyment.

And that does it for books that I read in 2012.  Maybe.  There’s a bunch more that I either read or re-read that I may touch on at some point… And I’m going to go over a few of my favorite books from the year in my next post, briefly, and then jump into Neil Gaiman’s comic opus The Sandman to celebrate the release of The Annotated Sandman Volume 1 on January 4th.

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